Tag Archives: Ed Gerber

Ed Gerber Preserves History, One Home At A Time

Ed Gerber is one of the preservation good guys.

For more than 10 years he has patiently preserved 93 Cross Highway. The home — visible to all, on a main road — was built in 1764 by the spectacularly named Eliphalet Sturges. From 1908 through the 1950s, it was owned by noted artist George Hand Wright.

Ed Gerber’s historic home.

Gerber grew up in New Haven and Fairfield, but spent many happy days at #93, after it was inherited by Frank Boylan — Wright’s nephew, and Gerber’s godfather.

For 40 years, Gerber lived in Washington. But as he retired from the FDIC, the Cross Highway property came on the market. He knew if he did not act, it could be Westport’s next teardown.

He bought it. Then he went to work. Walls and ceilings were painted and plastered. Maple floors were refinished. The bathrooms and kitchen were remodeled. The house — with its massive stone fabrication, handsome hearth and wonderful Wright-era furniture — has been lovingly restored.

Ed Gerber stands proudly in his refurbished living room.

With its historic landmark status, it’s a permanent part of our heritage — and an important element of our streetscape.

Now Gerber — a former member of Westport’s Historic District Commission and past vice president of the Westport Historical Society — has turned his attention to a different type of preservation: urban homes.

Ed Gerber

In his other roles, on Preservation Connecticut and a trustee of Historic New England, he’s seen what happens when homeowners get help preserving old structures.

They keep historical connections alive in a handsome way, of course. But they also provide hope and inspiration to entire city neighborhoods.

So, with a very generous $250,000 gift, he established the Edward F. Gerber Urban Preservation Fund. It will be administered by Historic New England.

Homeowners in Connecticut’s 10 most urban locations — Bridgeport, Harford, Manchester, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Stamford, Waterbury  and West Haven — are eligible for $10,000 grants. They will pay for preservation-related costs like a new roof or architectural drawings.

Property owners receiving grants will also receive support and guidance from Historic New England experts in architectural history and historic preservation, ensuring that projects enhance the historic significance of a home and will stand the test of time

It’s a win-win-win — for homeowners, their neighborhoods, and tradesmen skilled in preservation work (which Historic New England can link applicants with).

The handsome Bryant House, in Bridgeport.

Gerber hopes to see a variety of applicants, living in Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Victorian, Colonial Revival, triple-decker, Cape Cod and Mid-Century Modern residences.

His restored Cross Highway saltbox is miles away — geographically — from urban preservation sites. But the idea — preserving streetscapes, anchoring a neighborhood — is the same everywhere.

Thanks to Ed Gerber, urban homeowners now get the chance to preserve history too.

(To learn more about the Edward F. Gerber Urban Preservation Fund — including how to apply for a grant, or donate — click here, or contact Carissa Demore: cdemore@historicnewengland.org;; 720-244-1422.)

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Pic Of The Day #443

Ed Gerber’s Cross Highway home was built in 1764 — more than a decade before the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was built by Eliphalet Sturges, who has one of the great names in the history of Westport.

Holiday House Tour Is Truly Historic

They said it couldn’t be done: Set up a Holiday House Tour of only historic houses in Westport.

Ed Gerber did it.

For this year’s 31st annual event, the Westport Historical Society past president identified 7 great homes. Then he got the owners to open them for 5 hours on Sunday, December 10 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), so that history (and real estate) buffs could tour them.

(Gerber also makes sure they’re decorated festively. Holiday decor is a big draw each year.)

Six were built before 1850. Five of the homes are historic landmarks. The one that is not technically historic — unless you think, at 51 years old, it qualifies — is a saltbox reproduction done so well, you’d think it’s stood since Revolutionary times.

This saltbox was built in 1966. It sure doesn’t look that young.

One of the homes is Gerber’s own — a beauty on Cross Highway we all admire often. What, you thought the co-chair of a Westport Historical Society fundraiser would live in a modern McMansion?

Ed Gerber’s historic home.

Homes on the tour include:

  • “Duck Haven,” a  house and cottage on the Saugatuck River adjacent to the historic low-tide crossing point
  • A 1760s saltbox remodeled 15o years later — in 1910! — in Colonial Revival style
  • An early Colonial updated in the 1880s in the fashionable Italianate style, whose owners uncovered an original back staircase
  • The “David Judah House,” circa 1760, whose current owner meticulously preserved every nail, piece of timber and window
  • Westport’s 2nd-oldest school building, now a handsome home
  • That reproduction saltbox, built in 1966 and looking very historic
  • An adaptive reuse of an old barn into a residence.

A former barn, now a residence.

Gerber says, “Whenever you research historic houses, you find interesting links.” This time, he learned that 4 of the 7 residences were once owned by noted artists: John Held, master Jazz Age illustrator; painter Caroline Bean; landscape master Ossip Linde, and George Hand Wright, often called “the dean of Westport artists.”

Speaking of links, how about this: Miggs Burroughs — heir to that arts colony legacy pioneered by Wright — photographed all 7 doorways on this year’s Holiday House Tour.

He combined them all in a poster and logo, for “Holiday Doors of Westport.”

Be sure to register now, so you can see what’s behind those historic doors.

(The Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour is Sunday, December 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $50 for members and $60 for non-members in advance; $70 on the day of the tour. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here; go to the WHS at 25 Avery Place, or call 203-222-1424.)

(Photo collage/Miggs Burroughs)

Acorn Squash Soup Still Mmmmm Good — After 240 Years!

The Spotted Horse is not an old-fashioned place. It’s got a fresh menu, and a lively bar scene.

But it does call itself a “tavern.” It’s housed in a 215-year-old building.

And now it’s serving a dish from the Revolutionary War.

No, the acorn squash soup wasn’t made all those years ago. But it was popular then. And all the ingredients date from 1777.

The soup is tied in to the current Westport Historical Society exhibit. “The British Are Coming!” celebrates this month’s 240th anniversary of the Redcoats’ landing at Compo Beach.

(They were headed for Danbury, to burn an arsenal. We — well, some of our ancestors — surprised them along South Compo on the way north, then engaged them in a big battle on Compo Hill when they returned.)

As part of the exhibit, WHS board member Ed Hynes asked the restaurant to feature something from that period. They chose the soup.

Acorn squash was plentiful here then. Allspice — another key ingredient — was a popular import from the Caribbean.

Both Hynes and WHS immediate past president Ed Gerber have enjoyed the Spotted Horse soup. They call it “delicious.”

It will be featured all month.

At a 2017 — not, unfortunately, 1777 — price.

(For a full list of all “The British Are Coming!” events, click here. The exhibit runs through May 29.)

Acorn squash soup

Historic House Tour Lives Up To Its Name

You’d think that a Holiday House Tour — sponsored by the Westport Historical Society — would feature, well, historic houses.

That’s what Ed Gerber thought in 2010. He’d just moved into his own historic home on Cross Highway.

Surprised that all the holiday houses he toured were McMansions, he set out to create a real New England event.

His goal was to showcase homes built before 1850 — where today, in 2016, families live comfortably, lovingly and enthusiastically.

Ed — who is now immediate past president of the WHS — has finally done it. Next month’s tour features 5 houses in Westport, 1 in Easton — as well as the very historic Adams Academy.

One of the homes on the Westport Historical Society's 30th annual Holiday House Tour.

One of the homes on the Westport Historical Society’s 30th annual Holiday House Tour.

Only one lies in a designated historic district. All others are owned by families who love the uniqueness of their homes, and make alterations consistent with their style and history.

The 30th annual Holiday House Tour is set for Sunday, December 4 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Tour-goers will enjoy:

  • The circa 1700 John Platt House, one of the oldest in Westport
  • A 1760 home
  • A house with multiple hearths (all ablaze) and a mystery mural in a stairway
  • The former residence of H. Daniel Webster, who designed the Minute Man monument at Compo Beach
  • An expanded renovation with a tavern room
  • Adams Academy, Westport’s 1-room schoolhouse.

All have been adapted for 21st-century living, but pay homage to the past with inspiring decorations and nostalgic holiday cheer.

Home is where the hearth is.

Home is where the hearth is.

We may think of Westport as the teardown capital of the world. But you can kick off the holiday season with a tour of homes that have stood the test of time.

A loooong time. Just think of all the Christmases that 1700 home has seen!

(Tickets for the December 4 Holiday House Tour are $60 in advance, $70 the day of the event. The day before, the Westport Historical Society sponsors a Holiday Soiree at historic Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk [6 to 9 p.m.] with food, drinks, live entertainment, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $150 in advance. Tickets for both events, and more information, is available at www.westporthistory.org, the WHS at 25 Avery Place, or by calling 203-222-1424.)

Ushering In The Playhouse

It takes a ton of people to produce a Westport Country Playhouse show.

There are actors and director, of course. Plus costume designers, set builders, lighting and sound technicians, marketing staff, ticket sellers, and many more.

Including ushers.

Recently, 3 former — very former — ushers reminisced about that long-ago, very intriguing and quite satisfying summer work.

When Marilyn Harding, Arlene Gertzoff and Ed Gerber were growing up, the Playhouse was an “otherworldly” place. Repurposed in the 1930s, the erstwhile tannery had become a cozy red theater presenting the best of Broadway (and headed-to-Broadway) plays and musicals.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos -- known nationally for his Saturday  Evening Post covers and US postage stamps -- created the cover for this 1960s-era Playhouse playbill.

Westport artist Stevan Dohanos — known nationally for his Saturday Evening Post covers and US postage stamps — created the cover for this 1960s-era Playhouse playbill.

Casts included great actors and actresses — and those who would later become great.

In the 1960s, when Marilyn, Arlene and Ed were teenagers, the Playhouse was just 3 decades old. But it was already one of the most famous summer stock houses in the country.

Arlene says that for both the audience and ushers, the Playhouse was much more formal than today. Marilyn “found my string of pearls, whacked 3 inches off the hem of my black silk sheath — after all, it was the ’60s — dusted off my Capezios, pulled my hair into a French twist and was out the door.”

Ed, meanwhile, “unhappily” wore a blazer and tie.

Ushers worked under Jan De Vries, daughter of famed Westport author Peter De Vries. Ed calls her “a friendly sort, requiring nothing more of us than that we showed up on time having educated ourselves about the quirks of the theater’s seating chart, and that we greeted each guest with a polite ‘good evening’ as we checked their tickets and helped them find their seats.”

Playhouse playbill - ushers

Thanks to the ushers, from the playbill shown above.

The 3 ushers loved the Playhouse’s musty smell of paint, polish, aging red upholstery, creaky floors and unpredictable “air conditioning.”

Some of the seats were not very good, offering poor sight lines and uncomfortable balcony chairs. House managers dealt with unhappy customers.

Ushers were in awe of apprentices, who planned on careers in theaters. They and the touring actors lived in nearby housing, owned by or rented to the Playhouse (ushers lived at home, with their parents).

But ushers reveled in the chance to see a different play each week, with remarkable casts including Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Tallulah Bankhead, Joel Grey, Claude Rains, Sammy Davis Jr., Alan Alda and Liza Minelli.

When the show was over, ushers headed up the street to the Ice Cream Parlor.

All 3 left Westport, seeking fame and fortune elsewhere.

Marilyn, Arlene and Ed are all retired now, from varied and intriguing careers.

And all 3 are happy subscribers to the Playhouse. Where, half a century later, a new cast of ushers shows them to their seats.

A decade ago, the Westport Country Playhouse replaced its bench seating with individual seats. But they're still red. Some things never change.

A decade ago, the Westport Country Playhouse replaced its bench seating with individual seats. But they’re still red. Some things never change.

Historical Society Lauds Katie Chase

Last week — just 4 days before her death — the Westport Historical Society honored longtime and tireless volunteer Katie Chase. Jeff Craig wrote this tribute for the organization’s newsletter:

As she looks back on her many years of service to the Westport Historical Society, Katie Chase is grateful to have had the opportunity to help further an understanding and appreciation of the town’s past.

“It’s been a real privilege,” Katie says. “I find that everyone is helpful and interested in what we’re doing. We wouldn’t get the beautiful exhibits we’ve had if we didn’t have people working diligently for them. We have a great team.”

Katie has been an important member of that team. WHS president Ed Gerber recalls that his first introduction to the Society was trying to convince then-president Chase to sell his book about Westport artist George Wright in the gift shop. “She examined the copies I showed her with such thoroughness,” he remembers. “She said, ‘This one has a crease – we wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t perfect.”

Gerber says this “dedication and thoroughness” carried over into everything she did for the Society. She knows how everything was done in the past, Ed says, and has done the things other people have not wanted to do, like preserving and explaining the bylaws.  She’s been at every event, making sure people sign the guest register. “Her volunteer scope has been so great,” he says.

Katie Chase (Photo/Laurence S. Untermeyer)

Katie Chase (Photo/Laurence S. Untermeyer)

Katie has given her time to the Society since 2000, when she started working in the archives department with the late Barbara Raymond, whom she described as “a wonderful guide.” In the years since, Katie has edited all of the brochures for the Society’s exhibits. From 2007 to 2010 she headed up the Society as president, and only recently stepped down as vice president archives.

Behind the scenes Katie has been “a wonderful guide” herself, a kind and intelligent voice in the many deliberations that are part of our work. If the players on the “great team” of which she speaks wore uniforms, we retire her number and hang it on the wall of the Sheffer Gallery.

Katie came to Westport by way of Terre Haute, Indiana, where she grew up; Mills College in California where she received a degree in American studies, and Stamford. She and husband Bill moved here in 1974 because they “liked the look and the flavor of the town, the beach and the fact that it was still somewhat an artists community.” The couple has a son, who grew up here and attended Westport schools, and 2 grandchildren.

In her professional life, Katie worked for Greenwood Publishing in Westport, editing books on history and social studies. She later had her own business, Katie Chase Editorial Services, which she operated out of her home on Sue Terrace.

If you were to Google Katie’s name you would find that she has also been very active in the community, having served as president of the Y’s Women and  the Westport Young Woman’s League.

Some of Katie’s most enjoyable and interesting moments at the Society have been in the archives, fielding requests from the public for information about the town’s history. “When we could find what they wanted, it was always gratifying,” she says.

93 Cross Highway

Westport is filled with stories of charming old houses that turn into teardowns.  “06880” reported one of them just yesterday.

This is not one of them.

Two years ago Ed Gerber heard that the home at 93 Cross Highway was for sale. He knew it well.

Built in 1764 by the spectacularly named Eliphalet Sturges, it was owned for the next 144 years by the Sturges family.

George Hand Wright

In 1908 George Hand Wright — an illustrator, watercolorist and pastel artist who was a founder of Westport’s artists’ colony — bought the house and 30 acres of land, for a mere $300. He turned a small outbuilding into his studio. He and his wife Anne lived at 93 Cross Highway for nearly 50 years.

In 1947 Wright helped establish the Westport Artists Club, and later served as president. He died in 1951; Anne followed 3 years later. Wright’s nephew Frank Boylan inherited the property, and lived there another 50 years.

Boylan was Gerber’s godfather, and his father’s best friend. Growing up in New Haven and Fairfield (in his teens and 20s, he ushered at the Westport Country Playhouse), Gerber spent many happy days at #93. Two years ago, when the Boylan estate prepared to sell the house, representatives asked if Gerber was interested.

For 40 years, Gerber had lived in Washington, DC. But he was ready to retire from the FDIC. He knew if he did not act, 93 Cross Highway could be Westport’s next teardown.

He bought it.

Then he went to work.

Ed Gerber stands proudly in his refurbished living room.

Walls and ceilings needed painting and plastering. The maple floors needed refinishing. Gerber remodeled 2 baths, and the kitchen.

But the house had great bones. With massive stone fabrication, a handsome hearth and wonderful Wright-era furniture, it’s been lovingly restored to its past glory.

And it’s earned historic landmark status.

That’s a no-brainer. Gerber is a member of Westport’s Historic District Commission, and a vice president of the Westport Historical Society.

Ed Gerber and 93 Cross Highway.

The Historic District Commission has little authority to deter teardowns outside of the town’s 6 designated districts. “What we have is moral suasion,” he says.

But many people in houses at least 50 years old can hardly wait to knock down anything old and charming, to build something new and big.

“Everyone asks us to waive the 180-day waiting period (for demolition),” Gerber says.

He points to 108 Cross Highway, an 1805 home built by a free black man that was headed for destruction. The HDC has met several times, by phone and in person, with the owner and his agent, to provide options to demolition.

Ed Gerber turns back to #93. Thanks to his hard work, reverence for the past and passion for the present, it’s assured of remaining a lovely landmark on a well-traveled road for many years to come.